Sacred Texts  Christianity  Early Church Fathers  Index  Previous  Next 

p. 46

Chapter 10.—What the Church Teaches About God.  The Two Gods of the Manichæans.

16.  Will you say that you grant that we are bound to love God, but not the God worshipped by those who acknowledge the authority of the Old Testament?  In that case you refuse to worship the God who made heaven and earth, for this is the God set forth all through these books.  And you admit that the whole of the world, which is called heaven and earth, had God and a good God for its author and maker.  For in speaking to you about God we must make a distinction.  For you hold that there are two gods, one good and the other bad.

But if you say that you worship and approve of worshipping the God who made heaven and earth, but not the God supported by the authority of the Old Testament, you act impertinently in trying, though vainly, to attribute to us views and opinions altogether unlike the wholesome and profitable doctrine we really hold.  Nor can your silly and profane discourses be at all compared with the expositions in which learned and pious men of the Catholic Church open up those Scriptures to the willing and worthy.  Our understanding of the law and the prophets is quite different from what you suppose.  Mistake us no longer.  We do not worship a God who repents, or is envious, or needy, or cruel, or who takes pleasure in the blood of men or beasts, or is pleased with guilt and crime, or whose possession of the earth is limited to a little corner of it.  These and such like are the silly notions you are in the habit of denouncing at great length.  Your denunciation does not touch us.  The fancies of old women or of children you attack with a vehemence that is only ridiculous.  Any one whom you persuade in this way to join you shows no fault in the teaching of the Church, but only proves his own ignorance of it.

17.  If, then, you have any human feeling,—if you have any regard for your own welfare,—you should rather examine with diligence and piety the meaning of these passages of Scripture.  You should examine, unhappy beings that you are; for we condemn with no less severity and copiousness any faith which attributes to God what is unbecoming Him, and in those by whom these passages are literally understood we correct the mistake of ignorance, and look upon persistence in it as absurd.  And in many other things which you cannot understand there is in the Catholic teaching a check on the belief of those who have got beyond mental childishness, not in years, but in knowledge and understanding—old in the progress towards wisdom.  For we learn the folly of believing that God is bounded by any amount of space, even though infinite; and it is held unlawful to think of God, or any part of Him, as moving from one place to another.  And should any one suppose that anything in God’s substance or nature can suffer change or conversion, he will be held guilty of wild profanity.  There are thus among us children who think of God as having a human form, which they suppose He really has, which is a most degrading idea; and there are many of full age to whose mind the majesty of God appears in its inviolableness and unchangeableness as not only above the human body, but above their own mind itself.  These ages, as we said, are distinguished not by time, but by virtue and discretion. 55   Among you, again, there is no one who will picture God in a human form; but neither is there one who sets God apart from the contamination of human error.  As regards those who are fed like crying babies at the breast of the Catholic Church, if they are not carried off by heretics, they are nourished according to the vigor and capacity of each, and arrive at last, one in one way and another in another, first to a perfect man, and then to the maturity and hoary hairs of wisdom, when they may get life as they desire, and life in perfect happiness.



[Augustin’s virtus takes the place of the Greek δυυάμεις and the Vulgate virtutes.  It is not quite certain what meaning he attached to the expression.  He seems to waver between the idea of power and that of virtue in the ethical sense, and finally settles down to the use of the term in the latter sense.  That this does not accord with the meaning of the Apostle is evident.—A.H.N.]

Next: Chapter 11